In the upcoming college comedy “21 And Over,” a pair of American college buddies take their Chinese friend Jeff Chang out for a night on the town for his 21st birthday. Hijinks ensue, endangering Chang’s career-making medical school interview the very next morning. All things considered, the film, from “The Hangover” writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, is a boys-behaving-badly film where the lessons learned are carried for the rest of their lives, and partying and brotherhood remain paramount.
Well, it looks like that’s not the case in China. The $12 million comedy has gotten a major facelift that now includes bookending scenes of Chang in China, and emphasizes how Chang is better off attending school in his homeland. “’21 and Over,’ in China, is sort of a story about a boy who leaves China, gets corrupted by our wayward, Western partying ways and goes back to China a better person,” says Lucas, who, in talking with the LA Times, reveals he and Moore worked with the various Chinese financeers which include the government-owned Huaxia Film Distribution Company.
And while both Lucas and Moore were involved in writing the scenes for the alternate version, they acknowledge that their input only went so far. “We just took a stab at the pages and our Chinese liaison gave some notes,” Moore said, adding: “They dub it all anyway, so whatever dialogue we all wrote that’s in English, we don’t actually know what the Chinese version says.”
The finished American cut clearly posits the American friends (Miles Teller and Skyler Astin) as the leads, but it sounds as if the story has been retrofitted to be told through Chang (played by Justin Chon), while his American friends are actively portrayed as a corrupting influence. While films have collaborated with Chinese companies in the recent past (like “Iron Man 3“), the fact is big American blockbusters are likely to claim a couple of China’s very few slots alloted to foreign film releases. So a smaller picture like “21 And Over” probably wouldn’t have gotten play in that marketplace without financial participation. Questionable material is usually censored for Chinese releases, but with this effort and last year’s “Looper” featuring more extensive scenes set in Shanghai, it appears as if Hollywood studios have no qualms about extensive alternate cuts reaching other shores.
Relativity Films didn’t comment on the story, but considering their success in granting their films overseas releases, they’ll probably have no issue re-editing films in the future. What sort of precedent this sets, however, will be a major talking point moving forward when it comes to future international distribution.